BOEING'S STARLINER (Syllabus: GS Paper 3 – Sci and Tech)

News-CRUX-10     6th June 2024        
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Context: Boeing's new Starliner astronaut capsule was recently launched from Florida on a much-delayed first test flight carrying a crew, marking a significant milestone in the company's competition with Elon Musk's SpaceX.

Boeing's Starliner

  • About: It is designed to transport astronauts to and from space. It is more than 4 meters wide and can accommodate up to seven astronauts.
  • Purpose: To support NASA's efforts to transport astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

o Alongside SpaceX's Dragon crew capsule, Starliner will alternate launching astronauts to the ISS, ensuring continued access to space until the ISS is decommissioned next decade.

o After NASA shut its Space Shuttle programme in 2011 and before SpaceX’s Dragon capsule got ready in 2020, only Russia’s Soyuz rocket and capsule could ferry astronauts to and from the ISS.

  • Flight Test Profile: Starliner's first crew flight test will be piloted by veteran astronauts Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams.

o They will be launched by an Atlas V rocket and spend eight days aboard the ISS before returning to Earth, likely landing in New Mexico.

Sunita Williams

  • About: She is an American astronaut who set records on her three flights to the International Space Station. 
  • NASA Career: Selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in June 1998
  • Participated in two space missions: Expeditions 14/15 (December 9, 2006, to June 22, 2007) and 32/33 (July 14 to November 18, 2012)
  • Achievements: During her time aboard the ISS, Williams achieved a significant milestone for female astronauts by conducting four spacewalks, totalling 29 hours and 17 minutes.  

o In total, Williams has spent 322 days in space across her two missions. 

o She reclaimed the title of the female astronaut with the highest cumulative spacewalk time,, though this record was later surpassed by Peggy Whitson, who completed 10 spacewalks.